Prism Sound — Orpheus
For years now Prism Sound has been creating arguably some of the finest A/D D/A converters in existence. So it was a shock to me that they had entered into the vastly overpopulated realm of Firewire interfaces, even though they are doing so at the very, very top end of project studios budgets.
My guess is that this product is going to be most sought after by professional mix engineers that want a semi-portable high end system that can not only be used to complete post production in their own studios but also be taken to guest studios to complete tracking.
With 8 analogue ins, including 4 high-end mic pre’s, 2 S/PDIF lines and an extra 8 Digitals inputs via ADAT, the unit can allow for most tracking needs. Thus with the same amount of outs and an extra stereo headphone out it gives you plenty of options for hardware outboard units but maybe not enough for a summing mixer without utilizing the ADAT out.
Before I delve into how it sounds I just want to divert briefly to how the unit looks, not only hardware wise but also its software GUI. In one word it is “beautiful”, a nice and simple front panel and a pretty unique metering panel colour palette selection (which you scarcely see on a modern interface, most look more inclined to be used as a space exploration device). All the In/outs are clearly labeled and well placed inside a sleek and surprising 1U rack case. The software GUI is also equally easy on the eye, unlike similar high-end interfaces like the Metric Halo GUI: which is downright outdated and ugly!
With an interface of this obvious quality and also forethought into presentation, I took it out of the box and expected to be up and running in just a few minutes.
Boy was I wrong! Despite the obvious care and attention in production and design, there were immediate problems getting the unit to run. The Mac OSX (Lion) installer ran perfectly the unit powered up fine….But why is it not showing up in their software controller? Well after several hours of trial and error and talks with the Prism Audio tech support crew. I realized that not only was the Firewire cable provided with the demo unit faulty (even though it was newly packaged) but also the firmware needed re-flashing. Hopefully a set of circumstances avoided to those purchasing a new unit!
Once I was up and running though the audio was crystal clear and from memory equally at least on a par with the more expensive Apogee and Metric Halo units I’ve had the pleasure of using in various studios before. There was no need for me to be messing constantly with the GUI as it interfaced well with Pro Tools. The controller’s mixer also worked perfectly (and was more clear than Metric Halo’s) to allow Low Latency Monitoring to save on the dreaded DAW latency of old.
After several days of blissful use of the unit. I decided to test out the ADAT capabilities of the Orpheus at Longwave Studios, Cardiff. Running 8 analogue channels out of the studios Audient desk and two sets of returns from the Orpheus to the monitor controller and Headphone amps was a doddle. Please note the broad grin on my face from the sheer quality of the audio chain.
However, when it became time to connect the ADAT in (from an SSL Alphalink) and then clocking it all via an Apogee Big Ben the smile was very quickly removed. Trying to experiment with the settings was slow and sluggish and frequent changes to the ADAT settings caused crashes that meant the system would not co-operate at all (even causing me to need to flash the firmware a couple more times). Trying to apply any changes with your host DAW open was a complete no-no and to make matters even worse the items own user manual seemed to be so light on operating info about the ADAT modes it was like Prism didn’t even care about ADAT support!
Thankfully Prism Audio is almost as famous for it’s tech support as its outstanding products and a brief call to Chris Allen helped clear things up and filled the gaps left out of the user manual. As it turned out I was operating the unit in ADAT direct mode, which bypasses Firewire audio bus feeds. I selected Send/Return mode and hey presto I was up and running again (although I was sure I’d tried that mode before to no avail, hmm).
I have to say though that once the unit was up and running and clocked correctly. I didn’t have a single drop out or glitch. The sound quality was really something special even surpassing the more expensive Metric Halo unit I’d used to track an album two weeks prior.
To conclude the Prism Orpheus looks great, sounds even better and is the most stable large scale Firewire interface I have ever used so it is well worth the investment. However whilst the controller software is on the surface very aesthetically pleasing, it feels clunky and “glitchy “to use which may cause some headache’s until you are completely akin to the process of shutting down your sequencer before use and knowing all its operating modes like the back of your hand. However once I’d sent the demo back to Prism, these minor issues still didn’t stop me from immediately ordering an Orpheus of my own thus depriving me of my hard earned savings in that elusive search for that prefect mix. Which means that the Prism Orpheus passed probably the biggest audiophile acid test of them all.
Prism Orpheus is available here:
PRICE = £3,294.00